The restoration of Dorsey’s Knob Park’s beloved “Spirit Wall” mosaic mural is finally nearing completion, and Debora Palmer couldn’t be happier.
Palmer, the art coordinator of Morgantown’s Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, has been heading the project since 2018, though it certainly isn’t the first undertaking of its kind for her. A traveled and experienced artist, Palmer was the creator of Morgantown’s Arts in the Park, an annual summer camp in July revolving around arts and crafts.
Additionally, Palmer flies to Fiji at least once a year, working with children overseas to paint murals and other large-scale projects. She has so far directed the construction of eight different ones.
“I want to give kids the chance to take part in massive, large-scale projects,” she said. “The kind of stuff that they ordinarily can’t do during the school year.”
Palmer’s current project began when the original Spirit Wall, a project headed by famous mosaic muralist Isaiah Zagar, quite literally fell off the retaining wall it had been built upon in 2015. Palmer attributed this occurring due to the materials Zagar worked with, stating the adhesives used upon the Philadelphia buildings and walls that Zagar was familiar with didn’t cope well with the constant mixture they were exposed to by being upon a retaining wall.
After the Board of Parks and Recreation gave the funds to initiate the project, Palmer and her friend Bonnie Brown, WVU’s Program Coordinator of Native American Studies, began work on the recreation by working with children to create an assortment of ceramic pieces, while a team constructed a freestanding steel frame to support the new mural.
Once the frame was complete and the ceramic assembled, Palmer and her team of volunteers from around the community began work on the recreation until late 2018, where they finally had to stop due to the increasing inclement weather. Covering the project with a tarp for the winter, the work resumed in spring 2019 and hasn’t stopped since.
At more than 70 feet long, the wall itself is comprised of 18 different 7-by 8-foot panels; five of these panels are complete, with the remaining 13 being at various stages of development. Palmer is optimistic they may be able to finish before the end of 2018 but assures the mural will be definitely complete come spring.
“One of the hardest things about it has been that it’s a community mural,” Palmer said, “and while we absolutely encourage everyone to come participate, there’s still a lot of different levels of skill and ideas of style that are at play here. We’re here to make sure that everyone is ultimately working on the same picture.”
In order to ensure the downfall of the original Spirit Wall doesn’t repeat itself, Palmer’s initiative has taken careful consideration over all the materials they work with, from adhesives to paint.
“Longevity is our main concern,” she said.
Dorsey’s Knob was chosen as the site for the original mural and its successor because of the high volume of foot traffic the park receives. It aims to ensure that the citizens of Morgantown and students of WVU can learn about the culture of the Native Americans that once stood where they stood, while also providing a beautiful piece of artwork to the city.
Even in its current state of construction, it’s already turning heads.
“I’ll have people walk past everyday while I’m working on it, and they’re always wanting to know what it’s about,” Palmer said. “It’s always a great talking point.”
When it comes to informing and enriching the public with an understanding of culture, whether it be Native American culture or otherwise, Palmer places her faith in art.
“Having artwork is the first huge step,” she said. “You can’t miss artwork, and it’s always a measure of the health of the community — the more artwork, the healthier the community. It’s something people can look to and have pride in.”